The UK is facing one of its worst cost of living crises in decades. Rising food, fuel and energy prices are generating a surge in household bills. Both the Bank of England and the Office of Budget Responsibility have warned that inflation could hit five per cent in the next few months.
For those who concern themselves with such matters as human rights, there is perhaps no issue which weighs so heavily on the collective conscience than the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Occasionally, escalations in the violence make the headlines.
If ministers are to be believed, we should not concern ourselves with who it was that initially funded the £58,000 refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat. When interviewed, ministers willing divulge that the Prime Minister ultimately footed the bill, but they become curiously tight-lipped when, having failed to answer it, the question is asked of them again – this time with greater emphasis on the initially.
On 18 June 1984 – a literary coincidence, perhaps – thousands of striking miners gathered outside Orgreave coking plant. The miners sought to prevent lorries carrying coke from leaving the plant in the hope that it would allow them to pressurise the government into keeping the pits open, and thereby safeguard their jobs and communities. This was their protest.
A high court judge has ruled that Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, acted unlawfully by failing to publish details of the government’s multibillion-pound COVID-19 contracts within the required 30-day period. The Secretary of State dismissed the ruling as simply a case of “delayed paperwork”.
Last week, MPs voted against a proposal to prevent the UK from entering into trade deals with countries that the High Court deems guilty of genocide. This proposal, introduced as an amendment to the government’s post-Brexit Trade Bill, received cross-party support in the House of Lords but was defeated in the House of Commons due to the overwhelming majority enjoyed by the government.
To say that 2020 has been an unusual year is an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the package of government measures introduced in response, continue to dramatically impact our day-to-day lives. Even the most ordinary activities are subject to myriad restrictions and we find ourselves consciously weighing up the potential risks that even the simplest acts pose to others. In these respects, the pandemic has highlighted issues that form the crux of debates concerning human rights and civil liberties.
This week, a report into government procurement practices during the pandemic was released by the National Audit Office. According to the report, Covid-19 contracts worth over £9 billion were awarded without competitive tender. We also learnt that the government has been operating a “high-priority lane”, whereby politically well-connected suppliers were ten times more likely to be granted public contracts.
In the summer, it took a public campaign by Manchester United forward, Marcus Rashford, to force the government into providing free school meal vouchers to children from low-income households during the holidays. Commenting on the government’s U-turn, Boris Johnson, betraying not the slightest hint of shame, stated that “we have to understand the pressure that families are under right now”.
The government has announced to the world that it intends to break international law. It was an unusually frank admission from this government. Rather than heads shaking in denial, or the usual tripartite strategy of deflection, evasion and obfuscation, ministers have been very open about what they are doing.